Q&A Series – Overcoming common IT challenges for schools – Darren Elsby

Darren is an integral member of the education team at Somerville. As Hybrid IT Consultant, Darren works with schools and educational institutions throughout Australia to provide fit-for-purpose hybrid solutions. With a career in IT spanning more than two decades working in technical, senior management and sales consultancy roles, Darren’s breadth of knowledge covers every aspect of the modern IT environment, including cloud, managed services, and network infrastructure solutions.

Q: Hi Darren, tell us a bit about your background and what your role at Somerville entails.

Darren: I joined the team at Somerville about 18 months ago after moving on from my role as Partner Business Manager at HPE. Joining Somerville was almost like coming back home in a way, because I’d worked with the team in the past when I was working for a different integrator prior to HPE.

What compelled me to join Somerville wasn’t just the people, the technology or the infrastructure, but also the fact that I can confidently put my hand on my heart and offer schools a true end-to-end solution. We have a model of shared responsibility and collaborate with every customer to address what they want to achieve, rather than just selling prepackaged solutions. That ultimately allows us to deliver the business outcomes that our education partners are seeking.

Q: What is front of mind for decision-makers in the education sector at the moment?

Darren: The core business of any school is to educate. But with compromised security and data breaches being a very real threat these days and students relying heavily on technology, schools are recognising the need for better, more secure IT solutions. IT requirements – both from a legal and operational standpoint – are becoming harder to manage internally, so there’s a move to adopting IT partners.

A few years ago, we were mainly dealing with IT managers, but in more recent times there’s been a pronounced difference in how schools are using IT – particularly hybrid IT – and it’s now being treated as critical to school outcomes. There also tends to be more stakeholders involved these days – in part because of the high level of complexity of a typical school IT environment.

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges affecting schools when it comes to IT?

Darren: Security requirements for schools and businesses alike are increasing, and so educational institutions are going through a phase of “battening down the hatches” so to speak. For many, a primary concern is ensuring all their obligations are met when it comes to data protection and recovery in particular, because a breach would be detrimental to their reputation.

Most Schools typically don’t have the same level of corporate governance that you might see at a company, but nonetheless, they are very large enterprises and often underestimated in the market. Some have upwards of 2000 people on the ground, all with multiple devices that require connectivity. Then there’s the pressure of being available 24/7: parents want to be able to log in and see how their child is progressing, and the demand for apps mean schools need to be “always on”.

On top of that, most schools are generally required to have an audit of their IT systems every year, corporate responsibilities, so they also have compliance to think about.

Q: How does working with Somerville help address those pain points and drive better outcomes for schools?

Darren: At Somerville, we ease the burden on schools by establishing an ongoing partnership where we manage critical IT tasks so internal teams don’t have to, and we provide invaluable support. We don’t just push products; we encourage a dialogue to gauge what position a school is in, and cater an approach that works for that particular school. We typically recommend a hybrid model using the private cloud because of its reliable data recovery and business continuity aspects – but it depends on the situation.

The best outcome for any client – be it a school or some other organisation – is to have a strong partnership, so you can lean on someone you trust and have faith in their ability to resolve issues quickly.

Contact Darren today to learn more about how Somerville can help your school streamline IT operations, so you can focus on enhancing teaching and learning for better learning outcomes.

Technology Selection in Education

It’s interesting to take a closer look at the selection of technology in support of a school’s curriculum and learning outcomes.

Technology in education is a means to an end, not the end in itself. Technology is not a tick in a box – we’re using computers in education so that’s done. Using computers and other technology to be a digital version of what we have always done doesn’t achieve much. Technology can and should enable teachers to create instructional strategies that make better use of the technology for vastly improved teaching and learning outcomes.

Technology in education can play a vital role in preparing students for success in a rapidly-changing world. New entrants to the workforce should possess essential capabilities such as oral and written communications skills and critical thinking and problem solving skills. The research on how to achieve this often includes a reference to “deeper learning.” These skills are foundational to any intent to prepare students for university and/or a career.

Deeper learning should include actual academic skills and content, but what about the ability of students to communicate effectively, to work well in teams, to overcome challenges? These are the kinds of knowledge and skills that are collectively referred to when discussing deeper learning.

Deep learning competencies

These are often referred to as “the 6 Cs,” and are as follows:

  • Creativity – having an entrepreneurial eye for economic and social opportunities, asking the right inquiry questions to generate novel ideas, and leadership to pursue those ideas and turn them into action.
  • Communication – communicating effectively with a variety of styles, modes, and tools (including digital tools), tailored for a range of audiences.
  • Citizenship – thinking like global citizens, considering global issues based on a deep understanding of diverse value and worldviews, and with a genuine interest and ability to solve ambiguous and complex real-world problems that impact human and environmental sustainability.
  • Critical thinking – critically evaluating information and arguments, seeing patterns and connections, constructing meaningful knowledge, and applying it in the real world.
  • Character – learning to deep learn, armed with the essential character traits of grit, tenacity, perseverance, and resilience; and the ability to make learning an integral part of living.
  • Collaboration – work interdependently and synergistically in teams with strong interpersonal and team-related skills including effective management of team dynamics and challenges, making substantive decisions together, and learning from and contributing to the learning of others.

These are quoted from a white paper authored by Michael Fullan and Geoff Scott in 2014. http://www.michaelfullan.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Education-Plus-A-Whitepaper-July-2014-1.pdf

Now think about a curriculum that focuses on developing these competencies in the context of a broader curriculum that includes traditional academic skills and content. Then think about the technology that might be compatible with such a curriculum. Minimally spec’d or low-cost devices might fit well within a modest budget, but may compromise and have limited capability to support deep learning.

Solving real-world problems such as generating power from a wind turbine built by secondary school students from scrap metal might require more powerful laptop devices capable of modelling engineering issues and documenting collaborative results and editing video.

Deep Learning competencies are best developed by studying rich content is such disciplines as mathematics, literature, the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the arts.

Broader selection criteria

As important as it is to consider which technologies best support teaching and learning outcomes, there are also other factors to consider.

  • Budget considerations – cost is never irrelevant however there is a middle ground between minimally spec’d, low-cost and prohibitively expensive.
  • Classroom conditions – technology compatible with cabling, power, and real-estate limitations of the classrooms.
  • Sustainability – equipment should be robust and able to withstand the intended school environment and student handling.
  • Serviceability – a crucial element in selecting not only technology, but in selecting a provider. Your provider must be able to guarantee service turnaround and repair times so as not to disadvantage students and other users of the technology.

Selecting a provider and partner

The requirements of educational institutions and their communities are highly specialised. We have discussed how vital it is that technology is able to support not only the teaching of academic subjects and skills, but also the development of the competencies that lie at the heart of deeper learning, and their massive impact on the preparation of students for universities and working careers. It is therefore vital that schools work with providers who have strong experience in the education market.

Somerville has specialised in education for all of its 35 years. Almost 50% of its staff work in support of schools. From a service perspective, Somerville guarantees that more than 90% of devices are back in the hands of students within 24 hours. We negotiate the best deals and warranties with top tier technology brands. Our Education Director, David La Bozzetta has been working with schools since 1998, and has a wealth of experience leading highly respected education technology companies to support the transformation of learning. David and our team of experts enjoy engaging closely with schools to help drive change to make learning more effective and enjoyable for kids and equip schools to meet the challenges of 21st Century learning. If you have questions or concerns about selecting the right technology for your school, we are here and are more than happy to help. Don’t hesitate to reach out today. (hyperlink ‘reach out’ to our contact form on the website.